A Sting Exclusive: “Sustainable development goals: what role for business?” Commissioner Mimica asks live from European Business Summit 2015

Written by Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation & Development

Press conference by Neven Mimica, Members of the EC, on increasing the financial support for Nepal following the earthquake (EC audiovisual Services, 04/05/2015)

Press conference by Neven Mimica, Member of the EC, on increasing the financial support for Nepal following the earthquake (EC audiovisual Services, 04/05/2015)

In the next few months, the international community will take important decisions that will have a profound impact on how international cooperation and development will be pursued in the years and decades to come. Three major international events will determine the level of ambition and the degree of shared responsibility for our common future in the post-2015 period – the third international conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa in July, the United Nations summit on the new sustainable development goals in New York in September, and the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December.

One of the key challenges in these inter-linked processes is to ensure that the globalised economy does not leave behind the most vulnerable, the people who are trapped in poverty and conflict. We must do everything possible to promote shared prosperity, eradicate all forms of inequality and ensure respect for human rights everywhere. New opportunities and threats will have to be detected and managed. Changing economic realities may result in significant changes in development cooperation patterns. The way that we formulate policy and do business together will also surely change, as increasingly sophisticated communication tools offer new opportunities for the involvement of all.

The European Commission has called for an ambitious and comprehensive agenda that helps the world to respond to the full range of challenges that we face, including structural economic transformation, sustainable management of natural resources, climate change, sustainable consumption and production, and peaceful societies and governance. While making sure that the benefits of global progress are shared more widely and more evenly than they are today and that countries and societies can increasingly rely on their own resources, we must also ensure that those most in need will continue to have access to assistance.

A strong global partnership, based on shared responsibility, mutual accountability and respective capacity, is essential. This will also enable us to overcome the weaknesses of the traditional donor-recipient relationship. Developing countries want to take responsibility themselves – rightly so. We should respect and encourage this. Successful development cooperation in the future must build on assisting partner countries to develop their own strengths, using their own efforts and their own resources, while focussing our continuous support to those most in need. At the same time, this will allow us to move away from project-centred cooperation to cooperation focused on building the necessary framework for developing countries to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.

Partnership involves not just governments but also a wide range of other actors in international development policy, including the many civil society and non-governmental organisations that provide invaluable support to ensuring that needs are addressed and in keeping the progress of the international community in check. A true multi-stakeholder partnership is needed, with the active engagement of the private sector, civil society, parliaments and local authorities. Strengthening partnerships between these different parties with often different agendas is one of our greatest challenges, but it is one that must be overcome to make development cooperation more targeted, flexible and effective.

The role of the business community is of crucial importance to development cooperation in the coming years. The private sector is the key engine that powers the economic growth that is essential in developing countries. It provides some 90 % of jobs in those countries and makes essential investments in sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy. It also holds the key for innovations towards an inclusive green economy. The role of lead firms is crucial, not only in terms of where they invest or from where they source their materials and services, but also in terms of how these global industries operate and, in particular, according to which standards and rules. The importance of developing countries in these global value chains is increasing, and the future development of these relationships is crucial to fostering growth in these countries and providing their citizens with livelihoods that meet their expectations.

The way in which companies operate makes a huge difference. Are they capable of assessing risks and mitigating the possible impacts of their actions? How do they handle impacts on human rights, labour or the environment? And how do they implement business models that enhance development objectives? These are among the questions to ask if we are to speak about responsible trade and investment.

In the inter-connected, globalised economy, we have to acknowledge that development cooperation policies cannot be addressed in isolation. They need to be increasingly viewed in combination with the range of other policy areas that have an impact on developing countries – and that can also help provide the solutions. The EU Treaty requires the Union to take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that are likely to affect developing countries. Trade is one of these areas. We need to monitor the impact of our policies in areas such as trade, environment, climate, energy, fisheries, migration, science and research. The key challenge is to create synergies between development objectives and the objectives of these other policies that have an external dimension, so as to achieve increased effectiveness.

At the international level, I will continue to keep these objectives at the forefront of the discussions with our international partners in both developing and developed countries. We rely on the engagement of the business community to help integrate developing countries into a new global framework.

This year’s European Business Summit is an opportunity to underline that commitment.

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